In lab rats, brain cells from marrow

Research offers promise for congenital problems

May 13, 2004|By Jamie Talan | Jamie Talan,NEWSDAY

Scientists have transplanted adult stem cells from the bone marrow of rats into the brains of rat embryos and found that thousands of the cells survive into adulthood, raising the possibility that someday developmental abnormalities could be prevented or treated in the womb.

Dr. Ira Black, chairman of the department of neuroscience at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said the cells migrated to specific regions and took up the characteristics of neighboring brain cells.

"They exhibited the same flexibility in the living brain as we had observed in culture," said Black, director of the school's Stem Cell Center. His findings were published yesterday in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Scientists in recent years have debated the theory that bone marrow stem cells, plentiful throughout the human life cycle, could, with coaxing, become many types of brain cells.

Many reports have disputed this, asserting that bone marrow stem cells merely fuse to nearby brain cells. Other scientists believe marrow stem cells don't actually trigger new cells to grow in the adult brain, but work like factories to pump new life into remaining cells.

But Black and his colleagues injected adult bone marrow stem cells into the brain ventricles of embryonic rats and watched them migrate throughout the brain.

When they reached their destination, they expressed the same genes as other cells in the area. Thousands per cubic millimeter survived into adulthood.

Black and his colleagues used a specific type of bone marrow cell called a stromal cell, taken from the leg bones of adult rats.

"We see this potentially as an appropriate treatment for prenatal disease, mental retardation and congenital conditions," Black said.

The hope is that a patient's own bone marrow might someday be the source for replacing brain cells lost to illness and brain trauma, experts say. This would eliminate the need to use human embryonic stem cells.

In a separate study, Dr. Alexander Storch of the University of Ulm, Germany, recently took bone marrow stromal cells from six healthy people and converted the cells into immature neural stem cells.

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